Making public-private partnerships work: highlights from PPPLab event


On 1 December, SNV, as part of PPPLab, organised a practical day of knowledge exchange, application and design for professionals working in public-private partnerships (PPPs). Participants from private and public sectors, knowledge institutions and non-profit organisations gathered at the New World Campus in The Hague to exchange experiences with PPPs in food and water. The programme featured keynote speeches, practical workshops, speed dates with experts and networking sessions and topics covered tools and insights on making partnerships more effective.

Keynotes of the day

Tanja Gonggrijp, Management Team Member, Department for Sustainable Economic Development at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Netherlands kicked off the day with an insightful speech on the perspective of the public P: to tackle global issues and strive for inclusive development, we need to go beyond the responsibility of single actors and single sectors. According to her, three developments have led to an increased need to engage the private sector in development cooperation:

  1. The global agreement on the SDGs, which cannot be achieved without all stakeholders on board, including the private sector.

  2. A shift from a focus on tackling single issues to system transformation.

  3. The importance of collective value addition through all stakeholders involved.

In this light, it seems that PPPs indeed have a key role in tackling systemic issues. However, we should always ask ourselves the question if PPPs have an added value compared to other partnerships, and if they will indeed reach more sustainable impact at a larger scale. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been a frontrunner in supporting PPPs for inclusive development; but we need to keep innovating. How can we trigger more innovation through PPPs?

William Van Niekerk (Alliander, Top sector Water) presented insights from the perspective of the private P and compared reasons for and limitations of PPPs. PPPs are to make the impossible possible by bringing together the needs and perspectives of multiple stakeholders, which should be the main requirement when assessing the need for a PPP. Once established, PPPs are only successful when they have agreed on common goals and clear time frames that push collective action. Moreover, an equitable sharing of risks with the public sector is a pre for the private sector to join a PPP. Even though the Dutch excel in working in PPPs, the Dutch government and other stakeholders still have a lot to learn, such as who should be given the responsibility of large projects; those who are given the responsibility should have the capability to deliver on that.

Workshop on PPPs

The programme also offered six thematic workshops, led by professionals involved in PPPs as well as by PPPLab colleagues. Some key points from the sessions are:

Working with the Producer P: This session, led by SNV, focused on the discussion on how to make PPPs more inclusive; although producers play a central role in almost all FDOV projects, they are often not part of the official PPP partnership. Still, producers need to be engaged from the start in order to have long-term, sustainable impact; NGOs and knowledge institutes could play a key role in this by mapping the producer’s needs and by representing the producers in PPPs.

Scaling & System Change: SNV, as part of PPPLab, presented the findings of our study on Scaling & System Change. Successful scaling cases do not just scale one particular technology, but rather a set of arrangements, consisting of elements such as awareness raising, financial arrangements, value chain work, professional knowledge, business models, etc. Moreover, two types of scaling stages were distinguished: the stage of scaling the technology/solution itself (blueprint/validate/prepare/scale), and the stage of wider sector transformation (inception/first movers/critical mass/institutionalisation). Especially this last topic raised questions regarding the position of both the participant’s own PPPs and the position of PPP instruments such as FDOV and FDW in scaling.

Working with in-country partners: This session foucsed on multi-cultural partnerships (and the accompanying differences in communication styles): trust, donor dependency, working with public sector, confusion between unwillingness versus incapability etc.

Working with the Public P: Understanding challenges and risks of public partner engagement is key, not only when designing a PPP, but on a continuous basis. Experience and leadership are indispensable in responding to contextual challenges affecting Public P engagement. In addition, a repertoire of practices and lessons learned can help partners make strategic, context-specific choices regarding why, on what, with whom and how to work with public partners in a PPP. A more elaborate blog post about this session can be found here.

Financing PPPs: When thinking about a finance strategy for PPPs, it is key to articulate a PPP value proposition in terms that the funders understand. Key questions you should ask yourself are: What are the risks of the PPP?; Which development stage is the PPP in?; What are the growth opportunities?. Secondly, you need to understand the financing options well. Which investor’s terms suit your needs at this stage, and which will be more suitable later on? Which funder can provide something in addition to money? In this session participants also received feedback on the financing strategy for their own PPP. A critical question was if we should talk about “PPPs for Financing” or “Financing PPPs”?

Partnering processes: A common impression is that effective PPPs are also those that run smoothly; however, it is hard to identify what the focus should be in your partnership building efforts. Tools for creating a structured conversation on a partnership’s performance were of particular interest. The conclusion was that many PPPs can take the first steps in reflecting on internal partnering, but that neutral external support might be necessary to take the conversation to sensitive topics and work on real improvements.

During the day, colleagues from RVO working with PPPs were present to answer questions, and Peter Spierenburg (RVO) gave an update on the latest FDW call. The director of RVO, Robert Dijksterhuis, ended the day with a personal take on the history of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) that has led to the emergence of PPPs in development cooperation. Where ODA in the 70s and 80s was mainly a government-to-government activity, over time it has expanded to include civil society, then knowledge institutes, businesses and most recently financial institutions to tackle ever more complex problems, or the ‘systemic problems’ Tanja Gonggrijp mentioned before. For the future, Dijksterhuis thinks PPPs are essential for the bigger-picture, system change issues, and should focus on that. Simpler issues can work with simpler ways of collaborating.

Wrapping up, he pointed out that we have to be aware that many people, citizens, still feel left behind. Those involved in PPPs must keep in mind who they are doing it for. And that means that the government should stay in the position of being a lead partner, because governments have to listen to the public opinion. If they don’t, and the public opinion feels that it is ‘about us but without us’, citizens will vote for change.

See here PPPLab’s report.